Roddick on happier ground at Queen's

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The Independent Online

Given some overdue co-operation from the weather, the meaningful part of Britain's all-too-brief grass court season launches tomorrow with the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's Club. Andy Roddick, the disappointments of Paris clay safely behind him, will have a spot of launching in mind, too, in pursuit of a third consecutive title in this pre-Wimbledon event.

Given some overdue co-operation from the weather, the meaningful part of Britain's all-too-brief grass court season launches tomorrow with the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's Club. Andy Roddick, the disappointments of Paris clay safely behind him, will have a spot of launching in mind, too, in pursuit of a third consecutive title in this pre-Wimbledon event.

The quick turf of the west London club is where the top-seeded Roddick will be seeking to better his world speed-serve record of 155mph, as well as going one better as far as Wimbledon is concerned. In 2003, when he defeated Sebastien Grosjean to capture the massive Stella trophy for the first time, Roddick went on to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals. Last year, having again overcome Grosjean at Queen's, Roddick got to the Wimbledon final.

This time, the 22-year-old will be aiming to emulate John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Lleyton Hewitt by winning both Queen's and Wimbledon in the space of three weeks. Hewitt looms as his likely final Stella opponent and won the title in the three years before Roddick.

Hewitt has not played since Indian Wells in March because of a rib injury but will be brimming with familiar fire since he opted to avoid the possibility of further injury by withdrawing from the French Open. Wimbledon is where Hewitt plans to inflict damage, and a good run at the Stella will fuel that ambition.

Having failed to survive his opening match last year, the third-seeded Tim Henman will share Hewitt's hopes of putting together a sequence of grass victories to lift his confidence for the shouldering (for the 12th time) of the burden as the Nation's Great Hope at the All England Club.

Greg Rusedski's need of a few wins under the belt is more urgent than Henman's, to the point of being dire, as he struggles to lift his ranking in what could prove his final season on the pro tour. However, Rusedski's travails are nothing compared to those of Mark Philippoussis. Having won the Stella in 1997 and reached the Wimbledon final in 2003, the Australian has seen his ranking plunge after a depressing sequence of injuries, so he deserves the wild card which has been granted him as a morale-booster.

Among the debutants is the tall French teenager, Gael Monfils, winner of three Junior Grand Slams in 2004 (Australia, France and Wimbledon). While Monfils has gained direct acceptance, Andrew Murray, the junior US Open winner, is awarded a wild card into what will be only his second ATP event. His first-round opponent is the 109th-ranked Spaniard, Santiago Ventura. Other wild cards have gone to British players Jamie Delgado and the 19-year-old Josh Goodall, who faces Rusedski, and the popular American with an English mother, James Blake.

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